My grandfather, Moritz Abraham, and his brother, Haim Abraham, took an active part in the leadership of the Maccabi sports organization, first in Ruschuk, Bulgaria, then in Constantinople. In addition, Moritz's future brother-in-law Israel Auerbach, who had previously taken part in the creation of Berlin's Bar Kochba Jewish Sports Association, also belonged to the Constantinople Maccabi. Haim in particular seems to have taken a very active part in the sports association.
This page does not attempt to tell the story of Maccabi in Ruschuk (Ruse) or in Constantinople, as this would by far exceed the scope of this family project. My goal instead has been to collect information I've been able to find about the involvement of my grandfather Moritz Abraham and his brother Haim Abraham with Maccabi, as I believe this adds valuable insights about their lives. I am also including the work Israel and Elias Auerbach contributed to Maccabi in Constantinople and Haifa, as both families were closely related.
The participation of Haim (or "Heinrich" as he called himself then) with the early days of Maccabi in Ruschuk is documented in various articles and in two books, "Maccabi in the Balkan States" by David Rimon (1945) and "Maccabi Bulgaria" (1973).
In "Maccabi Bulgaria", p44, Meir Melamed writes:
"On February 10th 1902 a group of youngsters founded the Maccabi Association in Ruse under the name "Jewish Association for Gymnastics and Music - Maccabi". In 1905, after a fierce internal struggle, the Association defined itself as a Zionist organization."
"Thanks to the active help of the Jewish community, which wholeheartedly supported the first organisation of its youths, thanks to the effective support of the World Zionist Organisation, to the enthusiasm of the youths' management and to the talent of its leader, Heinrich Abraham*, Maccabi expanded its ranks from 42 to 100 members within a year. During this year, the Association held ten performances, designed its members' uniforms and inaugurated its flag."
*Note: Haim called himself "Heinrich" in Ruschuk after his return from Germany.
In December 1903, several Maccabi clubs from Bulgaria met in Sofia for their first national conference and Haim attended as the representant for the Ruschuk club.
Meir Melamed ("Maccabi Bulgaria", p44):
[...] "In 1903, at the initiative of the Maccabi Association of Ruse, the first conference of the gymnastics associations in Bulgaria was organized in the city. [...] Ruse became a center of guidance and influence for all the young Maccabi associations which began to emerge in Bulgaria one after another."
David Rimon (HaMaccabi Be'Artzot HaBalkan):
"On December 25, 1903, the first national conference was held in Sofia, attended by Maccabi groups from Ruse, Plovdiv, Pazardzhik and Sofia. The Zionist Organization in Bulgaria sent a special representative to this conference to congratulate the Maccabi convention and to participate in it on its behalf."
"The conference was limited to preparing the ground for the founding of the association, and elected a central committee whose task was to determine the regulations of the national association, its name, etc. The following were elected to the committee: Leon Cohen (President), Yaakov Tager, Emanuel Nasimoff, Alexander Radbil (today the four of them are in Tel Aviv) and Rahamim Baruch. The management of the technical work was handed over to the branch in Ruse under the presidency of Haim Avraham (today in Haifa)."
The first national conference of Maccabi associations in Bulgaria (December 25-27, 1903).
Seated from right to left: Haim Abraham, Shabbat Borochov, David Kalev, Aharon Manoach. Standing: Rachamim Borochov, Molcho, Emanuel Nissimoff, Adv. Moshaiv, Aharon Danon.
(Photo sources: "Maccabi Bulgaria", also in "HaMaccabi Be'Artzot HaBalkan" with caption above.)
The participation of my grandfather is more sparsely documented, suggesting his involvement was much more limited. David Rimon briefly mentions his name, without detailing his role, aside from being a member of the association.
Postcard commemorating the 10th anniversary of the "Israelitischer Turnverein Konstantinopel" (Israel Gymnastic Club), 1895/1905
(Collection Daniel Abraham)
This commemorative card, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the "Israelitischer Turnverein Konstantinopel" was part of my grandfather's collection. It's not clear what was Moritz's connection with this event since he left no written documentation. He may have participated to the anniversary in Constantinople as part of his acitivity in the Ruschuk Maccabi club.
The Maccabi Sports Organization of Constantinople had evolved from the "Israelitischer Turnverein Konstantinopel" ("Israelite Gymnastic Association of Constantinople"). It was the first Jewish sports organization in Eastern and Central Europe and was founded in 1895 in Constantinople by Jews of German and Austrian extraction who had been rejected from participating in other social sport clubs.
Upon their arrival in Constantinople in the Summer of 1908, Moritz and Haim joined the leadership of the Constantinople Maccabi organization.
In "HaMaccabi Be'Artzot HaBalkan" (The Maccabi in Balkan States), p96, David Rimon wrote:
"A few weeks after the Young Turk Revolution [July 1908], the brothers Haim Abraham and Moritz Abraham, members of Maccabi Ruschuk in Bulgaria, came to Constantinople. The brothers immediately went to work and devoted much of their time and energy to the development of the association."
"At the same time, Dr Israel Auerbach, the representative in Turkey of the German Jewish "Ezra" society ["Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden"] and a reporter of the official Zionist weekly "Die Welt" also arrived in Constantinople. Dr Auerbach, who prior to his arrival in Constantinople had been the president of "Bar Kochba" in Berlin (Jüdischer Turnverein Bar Kochba Berlin - the first Jewish gymnastics club) and the president of the Association of Jewish Gymnastics Societies in Germany, as well as the editor of the journal "Jüdische Turnzeitung", joined the management of the Maccabi association in Constantinople and contributed his talent and extensive experience in both the organisational and technical fields".
[...] "Under the influence of a few Zionists who were in Constantinople at that time, the Jews launched an internal propaganda for nationalism and Zionism. Among these Zionist influencers were Dr. David Marcus, rabbi of the Ashkenazi community, and Dr. Victor Jacobson, a representative of the Zionist General Council in Constantinople and director of the Anglo-Levantine Bank. [...] A few months after the [July 1908 Young Turk] Revolution, Ze'ev Jabotinsky came to Constantinople. The influence of these Zionist leaders led by Jabotinsky, as well as the two Maccabis who came from Bulgaria [Haim ("Heinrich") and Moritz Abraham], caused a complete change in the character of the "Israeli Gymnastics Association", which in September 1908 already enacted a "national" [read "Zionist"] constitution."
[...] The same month, the Israelite Gymnastics Association held a gymnastics celebration in honor of Dr. Israel Auerbach, and in the same year (1908) a large gymnastics celebration was held in which Jamal Pasha, son-in-law of Sheikh al-Islam and the Minister of State, participated.
David Rimon, p100:
"Most of the members in the suburbs [of Constantinople] were Sephardim, while in the city center one bloc of the two communities was formed, which led to the creation of a joint Maccabi committee of the Sephardim and Ashkenazim, consisting of HH: Moritz Abramovich - chairman, Dr. Israel Auerbach, Haim Avraham and more."
Moritz Abraham with Maccabi members, Constantinople (lying on the left).
Sitting on pommel horse in the center is Moritz Abramovitz, Chairman of the association.
This photo is on a postcard addressed to "Herr Abraham, Isr. Turnverein, Constantinople" and was mailed on July 24, 1908 from Munich. This would indicate that Moritz may have been in Constantinople, and had already joined the sports club before the Young Turk Revolution, which had started in July and ended on July 24, when Sultan Abdul Hamid II capitulated and reinstated the country's constitution.
Roman Sinkovsky ("Jewish German gymnastic system in Turkey until 1918"):
In 1908 the Israelitischer Turnverein changed its name to the national-Jewish "Maccabi". This renaming act followed naturally after the general assembly on May 25th 1908 when the club announced, for the very first time publicly, its national-Jewish conviction. This proposal originated by H. Abraham who declared that he was willing to hold his position (vice chairman) only in a national-Jewish turnverein.
According to the recollections of Sarah Cohen Eldar, Haim also "invented" Hebrew terms for gymnastics' commands.
Starting in May 1910 the gymnastic units were given in Hebrew and the club started organizing obligatory lessons of Hebrew for the members. The goal was the support of the national-Jewish idea and the prevention of the lingual and gymnastic-technical misunderstandings. The Constantinople Maccabi was the first national-Jewish club to use Hebrew.
Several Hebrew speaking men of Constantinople participated in creating the gymnastic terminology which was then sent to Jaffa (Palestine) for an appraisal.
The Jewish turners celebrated the commemoration of the Maccabbees with an annual gymnastic festival. On December 31st 1910, the program was started with the Ottoman anthem followed by the Zionist anthem ("Hatikvah"). Many Turkish officials and authorities were present, and some even gave speeches in one of the three official languages of the Maccabi - Turkish, Hebrew and French.
Maccabi Sports Organization in Constantinople
In the middle: Haim Abraham (sitting with arms crossed and dark suit), Moshe Abrahamovitz, Albert Zipper, Bornstein. Date unknown.
Source: Jabotinsky Archives
Maccabi organized many excursions, trips, sports celebrations and cultural events.
In the Spring of 1910, the Maccabi association travelled by ship to Kuzguncuk, a neighborhood of Constantinople on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and gave a presentation of gymnastics in front of a crowd. Also present were high-ranking army officers. At the end of their exhibition, they marched and sang the "Hatikva".
David Rimon, p100-101:
"H. Chaim Avraham, one of the leaders of the Maccabi in Constantinople and its living spirit, took the stage and explained to the crowded audience the goals of the Maccabi and the benefits of physical education, and at the end of his remarks he congratulated the new branch of Maccabi that was founded in this suburb on the same day."
"His speech made a great impression on those gathered who enthusiastically cheered [...]"
On July 17-19, 1910, the 4th Maccabi Congress took place in Varna, Bulgaria. The Constantinople club sent thirty or so members to participate, led by Haim Abraham and three other representatives. L'Aurore, a Jewish weekly from Constantinople, reported that:
"[...] it was pure elation when Mr. Haim Abraham spoke on behalf of our maccabists - first in Hebrew and then in Spanish [Ladino - DA]. He knew how to express such feelings that the applause erupted at the end of every one of his sentences."
In September 1910, El Tiempo, the Ladino publication opposed to Zionism, wrote an article attacking the Maccabi organization because of its Zionist leanings, focusing in particular on a speach given by Haim Abraham. In response, the Maccabi organization initiated a lawsuit against that publication, as reported by L'Aurore.
In September 1913, Haim attended the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna, during which 1,450 gymnasts participated in a mass display of Jewish Gymnasts.
At the sport event of all Maccabi organizations of Europe during the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna, 1913.
Haim is in the center, above the "X" mark.
Source: Jabotinsky Archives
Traces in the press
A brief dispatch in l'Aurore dated October 28, 1910, mentions Haim and describes his role as "Vice-President of the Central Committee".
L'Aurore, October 28, 1910.
A short note in l'Aurore dated June 17, 1910, displays the newly-elected members of the Pera section committee. Dr. Israel Auerbach, future brother-in-law of Moriz Abraham is assistant manager.
L'Aurore, June 17, 1910.
Another brief dispatch in l'Aurore, this one dated June 6, 1911, shows Haim elected as manager of the Pera section. Other names include A. Ziffer, J. Barzilai, M. Abramovitz, and Ezra Niego - all names that appear over the years in various leadership roles with the Maccabi association.
L'Aurore, June 6, 1911.
In the April 23, 1915 issue of l'Aurore, a pro-Zionist Jewish weekly published in Constantinople, a short notice about the yearly Maccabi assembly mentioned an "M. Abraham", I assume this being Moritz Abraham.
L'Aurore, April 23, 1915
"M. Abraham" appears as one of three advisors, although it's not clear what his responsibilities entailed. Interestingly, Haim is not listed, maybe indicating that he had stopped participating in the affairs of Maccabi by then.
Jewish Gymnastic Association - Maccabi
The yearly general assembly of the Pera branch of the Jewish Gymnastic Association Maccabi was held on Sunday April 18 in the premises of B'nai B'rith. [...] The assembly then proceeded to the election of the new commitee which is made up of the following members:
Manager: M. M.Abramowitz
Advisor: A. Ziffer
" : M. Abraham
The last mention of Moritz in connection with the Maccabi association places his involvement in the early 1920's, before the dissolution of Maccabi by the Turkish governement in 1923.
David Rimon, p106: "In the last years of the existence of the Maccabi, it was headed by Moritz Avraham."
I can't however confirm this statement as I don't have any other corroborating evidence. Since a Moritz Avramovitch had previously led the group, it is not impossible that Rimon could have confused the two names.
The last mention of Haim in relationship to Maccabi appears in a speech given on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the association reproduced in the February 1925 issue of Hamenora, the monthly publication of B'nai B'rith, Oriental District XI. Haim's name appears as one of four "valiant pioneers" of the organisation, although it's not clear what his role was by then.
Hamenora, February 1925
"[...] I do myself an honor to thank our valiant pioneers: MM. M. ABRAMOWITZ, HAYM AVRAHAM, ALBERT ZIFFER and JACQUES M. BARZILAI for the long years of labor devoted to our work. Your names and your memory are forever etched in letters of gold in the annals of the Maccabi.
According to David Rimon: "With the victory of Kamel Pasha in 1923, all national [meaning nationalist such as Zionist, etc.] associations, including the Maccabi associations throughout Turkey, were liquidated and banned."
Below are a few photos of Maccabi activities from my grandfather's collection.
Maccabi Group excursion - Constantinople, 1916.
"Ziffer, Zonnenschein, Abramowitz, Chaim Abraham, Adjoubel (? Adjanbel?), Habib, etc."
(Haim Abraham, with the beard, is standing to the far right.)
Jewish Sport Group excursion - Constantinople, 1916.
Inscription in the back: "Herr Abramowitz, Ziffer, Chaim Abraham, Sonnenschein, Habib, Adjanbel (?)."
Haim Abraham, with the beard, is second from the right in the middle row.
A copy of this photo also exists in the Maccabi archive, as "A group of gymnasts, including Avraham Zipper (center up), visiting the Jewish colony Mesila Hadasha in Istanbul".
Maccabi Excursion, ca. 1914-1922
Maccabi Soccer Team, ca. 1914-1922
Maccabi Soccer Team, ca. 1914-1922
Maccabi Soccer Team, ca. 1914-1922
Jewish Scouts - Cospoli, ca. 1914-1922
While only a couple of these photos are dated, two articles in Hamenora, the publication of the B'nai B'rith lodge, describe when outdoors activities were first introduced in Maccabi, putting their dates between the onset of WW1 and the early 1920's. The presence of men wearing fez, indicates that the soccer photos were taken before 1925, when the fez was banned by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
The first article, dating from July-August 1924 states:
"[...] Until the Great War our work was limited to so-called indoor gymnastics - apparatus and group movements. [...] Outdoor sport was gaining ground everywhere and imposing new guidelines on us."
"Already, during the war, we made the attempt at scouting. Our numerous, well equipped, excellently trained 'Drorim' were, for years, our pride. [...] we added [...] the practice of outdoor sports, athletics in its most modern expression."
"Our football section, already existing before the war, saw its ranks grow and the Maccabi selection managed to rank first in the Constantinopolitan tournament called "Sundays", for the 1921-1922 season. "
Another article in the February 1925 issue of the same publication implies that soccer and scoutism both started after the beginning of WW1:
"The cataclysm of the World War was soon to paralyze this beautiful activity. [...] Other technical branches were soon to be added to apparatus gymnastics: I mean the "Sénif Kadour Réguel" or Football as well as the Drorim or Scouts Section.
In December 1912, Elias Auerbach, Israel's brother, together with Herr Neumann*, a teacher of the Agudat Ezra school, founded the sports association "Maccabi Bat Galim", now known as Maccabi Haifa.The founders believed in the ideological ideas of the Maccabi movement and wanted to establish a branch in Haifa. The club's leading activities were swimming, football and basketball. (Source: Maccabihaifa.co.il) (*Note: another source mentions Elias Auerbach and Ernst Hermann)
The Maccabaean, Vol XXIII, N° 3. March 1913.
A brief mention of the founding of Haifa's Maccabi appears in "Das Kulturerbe deutschsprachiger Juden: Eine Spurensuche in den Ursprungs-, Transit- und Emigrationsländern" (The cultural heritage of German-speaking Jews: A search for clues in the countries of origin, transit and emigration) (edited by Elke-Vera Kotowski):
"The Maccabi Association in Haifa is [...] an example of the early transfer of the gymnastic and sporting tradition from Germany. Two "Bar Kochbaner" from Berlin, Elias Auerbach and Ernst Hermann, had founded the club in 1912."
- References and Publications:
- Journal. Unpublished.
- Jüdische Turnbewegung - Jewish German Gymnastic System in Turkey until 1918" (pdf - link). Journal of Human Sciences, Vol 6, No 2 (2009)
- "HaMaccabi Be'Artzot HaBalkan" (The Maccabi in Balkan States). 1945 .
- Maccabi Bulgaria. Committee in honor of Albert Kioso, 1976 .
- Jüdische Turnzeitung 1900-1921. Neuhrsg. (1977). Walluf/Neudeln. Sändig .
- "Zionism, Nationalism and the Emergence of the Judische Turnerschaft". Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook - 1983. .